Words from Wood Lane

Susan Neave, Beverley

I’ve left it too late to write much this week, and haven’t really got anything much to report. March 1st was the beginning of meteorological Spring, but the weather has been fairly grey and damp most of the week, not at all Spring-like. The blackbird doesn’t agree, and is busy nest building in the evergreen honeysuckle. Some of the other birds still seem to be on holiday. 

Had a long discussion with a friend on one of my daily walks about why the leek is associated with Wales and St David’s Day. Neither of us knew, so I looked it up when I got home. One explanation is that in 1346 Edward the Black Prince defeated the French at the Battle of Crécy. Welsh archers fought in a field of leeks, and as a reminder of their loyalty and bravery it became traditional for the Welsh to wear a leek in their cap on St David’s Day. The legend appears in Shakespeare's Henry V. I suppose that is as good a story as any. Wearing leeks presumably went out of fashion, and eventually the daffodil became the more popular choice to celebrate March 1st.



Thin air

John Mole, St Albans


Seldom predictable

and tending to arrive


when least expected

by the time of day


its temperament

is volatile


and challenges each fresh thought

of a mind made up.


Sometimes travelling

on the lightest breeze


it smiles with hesitation 

as it comes and goes


but when it chooses

vents such anger  


that the drenched earth trembles 

underneath its feet.


My feelings on paper

Barbara Warsop, Sheffield, Yorkshire

Last week I spoke to my daughter on face time and I could see she was upset so when I asked what was wrong, she burst into tears. Everything she said.

So, I suggested we meet up for a socially distant walk in Ecclesall woods. For me a 20-minute drive across Sheffield. 

I got ready with my boots in the car and set off on my usual route and the first road was closed. This meant a 3 mile detour round the river Riverlin on Riverlin Valley road to the next bridge so I knew I would be late. We had a lovely refreshing walk in the woods and the bird song was lovely and all was well when we parted. I had to remember that the road was closed and came home on another route.


Five days later, this morning a letter landed on my door mat with a speeding ticket in it. Oh, dear the first speeding ticket in 61 years of driving. Apparently, the stretch of road I thought was a 50 mile an hour speed limit had now been changed to a 40-mile limit. Periodically the speed limits change in Sheffield. In the past this stretch of road had a limit of 50 MPH. I was doing 46 MPH on this country road with the river at on side and fields at the other. I forgot the limit had changed to 40 MPH. I could get 3 points on my licence and £100 fine or I may be able to do a driving awareness course. I got out my driving licence to fill in the form and found out it was out of date by six months a double whammy. I panicked.


My daughter suggested I phone the DVLA which I did and got music and a recorded voice saying this call would cost £3 per minute and the first minute passed very quickly. So, I put the phone down and went on the DVLA web site. I found out that due to Covid 19 driving licence renewals have been extended for another 11 months. Thank goodness for that, phew!!

I now await my fate of an 82-year-old speed queen.

Keep safe everyone.


Vie de château

Marie-Christine, Blois, France

South Africa

I was re-reading last week's Plague20Journal, and wanted to know more about Karima Brown. I googled her name this morning, to find alas that she had died. I read about her in The South African and felt very sad for Mark for the loss of a friend and such a smart colleague. I was surprised not to find a Wikipedia page (at least on my computer in France) for such an obviously important person. 

We use, in these sad circumstances, two beautiful words: lament and condolences. 

Covid-time has been the opportunity for me to discover something about South Africa. The only thing I knew before was the wine of Klein Constantia in its beautiful black bottles - our daughter is called Constance, and we also love the "moelleux" wines from muscat grapes. Klein Constantia was known to be the favorite wine of Napoléon. As a translation, I don't like to say "soft or sweet" for "moelleux", it's nothing like that, in French, it's more like a feather mattress or a cashmere shawl. 

Another South African discovery: watching my daily Metropolitan Opera on line, I loved the setting of three operas by the SA artist William Kentridge - especially Shostakovich's The Nose. We went to his extended exhibition near Lille the day before the October lockdown. Wanting to know more about SA, I found a second hand book in Lionel's bouquinerie round the corner - bouquin is the affectionate word for book- "Le Curé de Soweto" - a catholic parish priest from 1983 to 1994 - by Emmanuel Lafont. He was called Senatla in Africa (the strong man), speaking Zulu and Sotho. And doing a difficult and risky job. On the "big day", election of Mandela on 27 April 1994, his church of Saint-Philippe Néri became a polling station. Every page was a surprise for me, difficult to imagine not only the poverty but the numerous obstacles for education and neighborly relationships, the addictions, the violence, and at that time the apartheid. The book also shows warm human feeling and the positive effects of peaceful determination. 

Maybe Mark can give us the title of a book, which he thinks represents well today's heart of South Africa. 



Covid time, cooking time. We have to be at home by 6 pm, so we have plenty of time to do it. We cook following the seasons, from fresh local products, winter apples or pears, pulses, roots...  in every possible way. But we are looking forward to changing in two months when new vegetables and fruits arrive. Those little fresh white onions, just quickly boiled, with a pinch of salt and a few drops of olive oil. Some days are warm, a lot of trees are in flower, let's hope that heavy frost will not damage them later. 



Rob put in practice his English gardening skills, keeping Nature under control after the Covid trick that Nature has played on us. He has cleared the garden, it's no more a wild sanctuary. It looks "impeccable". Rob likes the French use of this theological word meaning without sin. Here, we use it for everything, as in: 'the electrician will come at 6 o'clock', 'Impeccable'. 

After cutting and trimming, there is a huge pile of branches on the terrasse, that can't be put in my small car. It would take me at least ten journeys to the waste collection center. I called the town waste collection, and they are coming with a special van to take it away, no idea of the bill yet. Really handy. 

The wandering hellebores in the border are magnificent. It seems a lot of Plague20 contributors love them too, I enjoyed all the photos last week.


French Prime Minister, Jean Castex

It is said that our PM begins all the reunions he is heading with the same sentence : "Mesdames, Messieurs, je ne vous cache pas qu'on est dans la m..." - Ladies and Gentleman, I don't hide from you that we are in the s..."  It's made people laugh, and he doesn't have to lie. The most important thing is said. 

Outside his office, not much is happening. Rob will not be able to get his injections before mid-April, one month more was added a few days ago. Three million doses of vaccines are hidden somewhere in refrigerators and unavailable. God knows why.

Kate Bingham, who was leading Boris Johnson's vaccination strategy, is called an "empress" in Le Point. She was appointed in May 2020, Chair of the UK Vaccine Taskforce, unpaid. She chose her eight PR consultants, not badly paid, but costing much less than the three private companies advising Président Macron. She decided everything all by herself, it seems, and the main point is that she guaranteed legal immunity to all the companies and persons involved in the vaccination. I still can't understand why she ordered 3 times the amount of vaccine she needed for everybody in the UK to be vaccinated, but she probably knows why herself. Anyway, a winning strategist.  



0.0001 dollar in 2009, 1 dollar in January 2011, 57 805 last week. It seems that soon it will be possible to pay for a car with that kind of "money". 

I don't understand, I am doomed probably. And probably not the only one. It's the sort of thing that makes me happy to be 60+. Perhaps it's not more virtual than the number in my bank account after all. 


Readers of Plague20-21: 

The counter, on the last line of page 3, marks 9142. My last junior doctor , https://www.instagram.com/thefrench.radiologist/?hl=fr , has now more than 50000 followers on Instagram, told me that more 10000 readers on the web is considered to be seriously good.


Corona Diary

Annabel, A village in North Norfolk

Another week has shot by and not much achieved.

I went to the optician in Norwich on Monday but the appointment turned out to be for Tuesday so had to go back the next day! 

A close friend has found out he is sick. Not covid but bad. Very sad about this.

Roger the Gardener tripped in the garden and put his hand out to balance himself and grabbed hold of a rose bush. He had to go to Norwich to get steri stripped back together. 

I went to the shop one day to retrieve a parcel and receive another from the DHL man but he got there before me and didn’t leave it with Nigel the butcher which was very annoying. Later on I saw another DHL van. Have you got our parcel I asked. No not me he said. 

In the afternoon I took Earnie for a walk at Glandford, a few miles away and saw another DHL van near the Cley Spy shop. Have you got our parcel? Low and behold he did have it and he gave it to me!!! Result. 


The parcel I retrieved from the shop was a lovely box of Rose and Violet creams from our own lovely Shirin. I am being very spoilt what with this and Margaret’s gorgeous box of booja booja from the week before. So exciting having surprise boxes of chocolates arriving at ones door. Thankyou both.

I have a hair appointment for April.

I made a very good paleoish orange cake topped with my refined sugar free marmalade and then covered in flaked and whole almonds. It was very good and lasted about 2 days. I think Earnie must have eaten some of it. It was like a giant Jaffa cake without the chocolate so I made another one. Delicious.


In the news positive cases of The Virus have gone down a third in the last week.

A very brave nun stood in the road between the security forces and the protesters in Myanmar, pleading for them not to shoot the protestors. She said she thought she would die and was fully prepared for death. 

Rishi presented his budget and there is more support for the self employed and businesses etc. Huge sums involved.

Boris and Rishi are in the Sh1t for offering NHS workers a 1% pay rise. Big backlash and nurses threaten strikes. I think they should have been given a one off holiday bonus as a thankyou to every one concerned.


Boris is tearing his hair out as the refurb bill for his and Carrie’s no 11 flat is heading towards £200,000 and he hasn’t got any money due to only earning £150,000 a year and maintaining 6 kids etc. Carrie obviously has Duchess tastes as well. No 10 will only pay £30,000 for decorating so he’s trying to form a charity or get rich tory donors to foot the bill. I think I might try that, Fake Duchess needs better curtains charity. Any contributors? 

They’ve been getting lovely Daylesford lunches delivered every day (£50 ) by Boris’s personal chef there. Daylesford organic food boxes and a bunch of flowers every week ( reportedly £250 but the flowers alone are probably £100) are being smuggled into the back door of No 10 on a trolley as they are so heavy. An estimated £12,500 for the last year. Lunch in the No 10 canteen is a fiver.

Anyway speaking of Duchesses, Meghan is really letting the side down and not behaving in a discreet Duchess fashion. The Oprah interview is being trailed and Meghan is having her say, getting her truth out. I think she should shut up. 

Prince Philip has had a heart operation at Barts this week but was moved back to his private hospital today in an NHS ambulance. The world is going to be glued to the telly on Sunday night and the palace must be quaking in their boots as to what she might say. Gosh, Haz (thats what Meghan calls Harry) and she are really burning their boats. The Queen must be horrified by her. In America they are all on Meghan’s side but I think everybody here was fully prepared to love her and she just hasn’t played the game apart from stealing Harry away which no one will forgive her for. 


Not much else to report. I have my four legged companions shadowing and amusing me everyday. There is a constant game of get the pants and socks and cashmere hats. Returned for a price. If not a quick enough return more pants will be taken plus tea towels pairs of gloves etc. Sylvia the lavender araukana has laid a blue egg, her first one this year. This morning there was a chicken break out but with Earnie’s help we rounded them up and got them back in their pen. 


Saturday morning. 6th March 2020

Another blue egg from Sylvia and more chicken break outs. They have had enough of lockdown too. 


Lots of love everybody.

Love from Annabel




From Twickenham

David Horovitch, Twickenham

It's Thursday March 4th, about 10 months since I filmed Sonnet No.1 and, on Monday, I filmed No.154, the last one. My morning routine over this year has hardly varied. I wake at about 6, with a sense of apprehension at the empty, solitary day stretching ahead. I lie there for 1/2 an hour indulging this feeling and then I get up and come back to bed with a cup of black tea, 'Reading Shakespeare's Sonnets' by Don Patterson and a sharp pencil. The book is tattered and worn now and full of my indecipherable scribbles.Reluctantly I open it at the sonnet of the moment and struggle - partly with its seeming opacity but more with the voices in my head that say you shouldn't be doing this, you can't do it, who the fuck do you think you are? After half an hour though, something happens, it changes, and I realise that I not only understand the first quatrain, I have memorised it, the words are beginning to dance in my head and I can move on to the next. And now I am quite simply at work, a man absorbed in his work. And that, as any actor will tell you, is a blessed thing. And, within another 45 minutes or so, what had seemed so incomprehensible is swimming into focus and I have a sense of the meaning and the sonic architecture of the poem. I get up. As I'm shaving I'm muttering it to myself in the mirror; I repeat this whole procedure with the same poem for a day or two and then ,when I feel ready, to film it, leaving the security of the shaving mirror and the bed is like the shock of leaving the womb of the rehearsal room to blink and stutter in the full glare of stage lighting. All alone here in my flat with my mobile phone on its little stand I have first night nerves. It's horrible and the first few takes an embarrassment even though there's no-one but me to observe my ineptitude. I have problems with my voice - it's difficult because my memory is at its best at that time of day but my voice isn't, so I'm endlessly clearing my throat and cursing and making mistakes. When I finally get through all fourteen lines without a hitch, I play it back but, though accurate, it seems utterly inert. However, knowing that I can get through to the end without a fumble gives me confidence, I start to relax and, as I do, more choices of phrasing and interpretation open up to me. I begin to improvise with my breathing, sometimes taking three or four lines on one breath or seeing that breaking a line in the middle will help convey the sense. Occasionally with the more familiar ones, I record them in 10 or 15 minutes, the average is more like 40 minutes, the longest one ever was sonnet 46 which took me about three hours for some reason and sonnet 47 wasn't much better. That was the time when I came nearest to throwing in the towel. 


When I embarked on the project I said that I hoped that it would save my sanity and, when I began to realise what a dark and tormented mind I was dealing with, I was puzzled as to why Shakespeare's turmoil wasn't becoming mine - on the contrary every time I began to understand and internalise a sonnet I felt extraordinarily blithe and the rest of the day no longer seemed so blank and empty. When a friend of mine the actor, Alan Williams, suggested that the sonnets were 'the record of a mind looking at itself ' I felt that the mind being scrutinised, the undifferentiated Id, the jumble of free - floating anxieties, was uncomfortably like the one I woke, with at 6 every morning. But the eye of the mind that was scrutinising was uniquely Shakespeare's, the mind of the fearless, peerless poet. Another poet, Peter, who taught me English all those years ago, said to me recently, “People think that writing poetry is a sort of madness but it's really the sanest activity imaginable.” From what Yeats called “the foul rag and bone shop of the heart” the poet creates clarity and beauty, if not meaning and sense, at least not as those words are commonly understood. 


John Barton, the Shakespeare scholar and RSC director said that Shakespeare was the most ironic of playwrights and poets, his characters habitually examining themselves with ironic detachment: Falstaff and Viola, Lord and Lady Macbeth, Henry 1V, Prince Hal, Richard 11, Richard 111, Benedick, Berowne all take stock and ask themselves Hamlet's question - “How stand I then ?” I can only speak for myself but perhaps it's a question, in this year of restrictions and solitude, stripped of so many familiar and comforting structures, that lots of us have been forced to ask. It only has the most provisional of answers for me - something along the lines of  “Well, not too bad thanks, Dave, just for today”, but the act of asking it and knowing that Shakespeare and his people, as vital to me as Life itself, are asking it over and over somewhere in their endless Arcadia, seems to me to have been as good a way of keeping sane as any.


From the Editor 

Margaret, Norfolk

It’s nearly a year since the first edition of this journal! Way back then there was a daily edition, and we thought we were keeping it going for twelve weeks. How things have changed. How our lives have changed. 

In two weeks time we will be publishing the anniversary edition, so I urge you all to look back over this year as you write your anniversary piece. I shall be encouraging lapsed contributors to submit too; it will be interesting to hear what’s been happening to them. And dare anyone look forward a year to March 2022 and predict what our lives might look like?


I do admire those of you who have really used this year well; I feel as if I’ve merely been treading water. So well done Nicola with your latest arts initiative for raising money (see link in Lynzy’s piece) and a big cheer for David who has just finished learning all of Shakespeare’s sonnets over the twelve months, and raising over £3000 for Amnesty International.
As Stephen Fry says of this venture, ‘Simply wonderful. An incredible achievement and most beautifully done...’


But well done to all of you, our writers, too. An incredible achievement and most beautifully done!